International nurse and climate activist
From the Philippines to Finland, Floro Cubelo has seen how access to health care can make all the difference. Realizing the impact of his own greenhouse gas emissions from long flights home, this international nurse became compelled to lead climate action efforts through the lens of sustainable development goals and health policy.
“I grew up in a squatter’s area,” Floro Cubelo, who is originally from the Philippines, said. “I saw how people really struggled to access health care. When someone got sick and couldn’t afford to go to the hospital, we used alternative medicine.”
At 20, Cubelo learned that Finland was recruiting Filipino nurses. As a recent nursing school graduate in the Philippines, Cubelo moved to Finland, studied Finnish (his fourth language, in addition to English, Visayan, and Filipino) and passed the nursing entrance exam in Finland.
Though parts of Finland are north of the Arctic Circle, the country still suffers from heat waves. Cubelo said heat waves are the most concerning health impact of climate change in Finland, particularly for his patients with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
While the air quality in Finland is typically safe, Cubelo shares that the country even experiences wildfires, “When people in the hospital are so sick, they have two options: to go home or to go to a long-term care facility. Those who live in far-flung areas without transportation are challenged to access health care. Finland’s health care system is good, but not necessarily when you live outside the city.”
After living in countries with limited access to health care and policy that did not adequately support public health, Cubelo was inspired to get his MPH and eventually his Ph.D. in nursing. He also has nursing licenses in Sweden and Iceland.
Cubelo felt compelled to support nurses on comparable journeys to become international nurses. As part of the Filipino Nurses Association-Nordic (FiNAN), he works to support international nurses through the complicated process of becoming a nurse in a foreign country.
Like many international nurses, Cubelo still has family and friends in his home country, whom he visits on holidays. While studying the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals while getting his master’s degree, he recalls reading an article from Health Care Without Harm. Suddenly, it dawned on him – the traveling lifestyle of many international nurses directly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
“Flying from Manila to Helsinki generates 1,647 kg of carbon dioxide,” Cubelo said. “There are 72 countries where an average person contributes less carbon emissions than that per year.”
Cubelo was inspired and contacted Health Care Without Harm-Europe to see how FiNAN could collaborate with the organization. He then learned about the Nurses Climate Challenge.
From his patients to the FiNAN General Assembly to a community presentation at Finland’s largest library to CleanMed-Europe, Cubelo has been able to tailor his climate and health messaging for a wide variety of audiences using resources from the Nurses Climate Challenge. He encourages nurses around the world to “plant a tree when they go home” to help offset their greenhouse gas emissions from their international flights.
Along with teaching his patients, community members, and his international nursing colleagues about the health impacts of climate change and how to make a difference, Cubelo now reaches nursing students. As Senior Lecturer and Head of the International Degree Programme in Nursing at Oulu University of Applied Sciences, he has used the Nurses Climate Challenge resources.
“Time is running out. Nurses are the largest and most trusted group of health professionals, and we can implement effective policy,” Cubelo said. “When no one moves and no one speaks, resistance to change becomes a culture that becomes very difficult to change in the future. We need to set an example.”
Cubelo added that in Finland, the government prioritizes education and action on climate change. He said the younger generation is ready for climate action, noting that schools are integrating climate change education into curricula beginning in primary school.
Just as nurses are ranked as the most trusted professional year after year, Finland consistently ranks among the happiest countries. That happiness, Cubelo maintains, comes from nature. More than 75% of the land is forest, making it the most forest-covered country in Europe.
“Our planet is also our patient,” Cubelo said. “Don't be afraid to speak for the welfare of the planet.”
In November 2020, catastrophic Typhoons Goni and Vamco slammed into the Philippines. Floro and his colleagues at FiNAN established a disaster relief fund to help community members in desperate need of aid due to this climate-related event. Find out more and donate today.
Floro Cubelo lives in rural Finland and enjoys jogging, cycling, and spending time in nature. He is currently seeking his doctorate in nursing science at the University of Finland with a focus on international nurse mobility and health policy.